Polls have closed in Iran’s presidential elections, with an expected runoff election to be held between former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformist candidate Mostafa Moin. While this has set back more conservative elements (Rafsanjani is seen as a pragmatist), voting between the eight approved candidates was tight and the well publicized rejection of nearly 1,000 candidates (including all women and all but two reformists) cast a pall over many citizens, whose turnout (following calls for a boycott led by Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi) were difficult to gauge. Moin, the standard bearer for the reformers, was originally rejected, but later reinstated with the assistance of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami (who is barred from another term). Khatami himself had raised hopes among frustrated reformers in Iran (and the West) as he eased Iran back into contact with Western governments upon election in 1997 and helped ease restrictions on religious practices, press freedom, and cultural expression (note the resurgence of Iranian cinema during his tenure). Primary concerns this time around were about unemployment (what, no Great Satan?), especially among the 2/3 of citizens who are now under 30. Also, the Iranian electorate, arguably among the most politically sophisticated in the Muslim world, still have to contend with a system hemmed in by the unelected Guardian Council of clerics, led by the austere Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who urged Iranians to vote as means of endorsing the system. “When we go to the ballot boxes and vote in the framework of the constitution, we in fact vote for the constitution and the system,” said Khamenei. “No matter who we vote for it’s a vote for the system.” US President George Bush (himself no stranger to electoral controversy) chimed in with his critique, though when compared to the praise for Egypt and Saudi elections, press secretary Scott McClellan deferred (“Different circumstances around the world require different strategies and different approaches.”). Ultimately, if Iran’s youth have anything in their favour, its… erm… youth. “There is no turning back,” said Fareed Mehrabian, 23. “This is Iran today and anyone who wants to rule this country must accept the young people and work with us.”
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.